WVU notebook: Garrison earning niche in receiving corps
MORGANTOWN - After gunning for a first-team tailback slot in the preseason, true freshman Dustin Garrison was somewhat disappointed after the Marshall game.
He had no carries. He caught one pass for 9 yards.
On Saturday, though, in the Mountaineers' win over Norfolk State, Garrison made the catch of the game. He almost single-handedly turned the boos into cheers, and he helped turn the game into a WVU 55-12 runaway.
With the score 17-12 in favor of West Virginia, Garrison made a nice, instinctive catch in the middle of the field for a 36-yard gain to the NSU 44. He then ran the ball for a gain of 13. A personal foul - one of a whopping 19 Spartan penalties - pushed the ball to the NSU 16.
The hosts, now 2-0, finished off the drive with a Geno Smith-to-Tavon Austin touchdown pass. The runaway was never headed afterward.
"We went out there with a sense of urgency," Garrison said of the second half. "We just had to put plays together and put points on the board."
That the Mountaineers did after trailing 12-10 at halftime.
Garrison, a product of Texas high school power Pearland High, smiled of his catch.
"I did a lot of those routes in high school," said the back. "In the Cover 2 defense, the middle of the field is wide open. You just have to get around the linebacker and you're there. It's something I'm used to doing. And I did it. It's a great feeling catching the ball and getting the first down."
Garrison said much of the catch was on instinct. He turned and the ball was there.
"That's pretty much what it was," said the freshman. "We called the play before we went on the field, so I was getting mentally prepared for it. I was like, 'I can't drop it.' I tried not to think too much about it. We ran it and it worked."
It seems Garrison is earning a niche as a receiver that can catch.
"Coach [Robert] Gillespie likes the way I catch the ball, whether downfield or screen passes," Garrison said. "He admires my hands out of the backfield. It's a great feeling to know I can go out there and catch a ball.
"He told me to keep it up. That's what I'm here for, to make plays."
Garrison compared the WVU offense to that of Pearland.
"It was the same tempo," he said. "A hurry-up offense. What's different is I'd look to the sidelines and find the call. Here, I'm listening to what Geno has to say. But it's pretty much the same thing. The speed of it, the tempo, it's still the same. It's just the game is a lot faster than it is in high school."
The game or the opponents?
"Both," he said with a smile.
Garrison said, however, WVU's tempo can improve.
"We can get a lot faster," he said. "When the ref sets the ball, we have enough time to get there and run another play. It's just an attitude thing. We just have to do it. I feel like we're getting there. Hopefully, next week, we'll have it down."
As for last week's inaction, Garrison shrugged.
"I just kind of let it go," he said. "I knew I was going to have my chance. While everybody was getting their reps, I was still stretching, still trying to get loose for when I got my chance."
Vernard Roberts led WVU's backs with 17 carries for 64 yards, but Garrison did get three rushes for 19 yards and a touchdown and three catches for 51 yards and the score.
Before the game, the whispers in the press box were that freshman Quinton Spain would start at left guard. That didn't happen. In fact, he only participated for three plays. But there was a reason: injury.
"I don't know; I'm not sure [what the injury was]," said WVU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "The trainers will know more about that tomorrow. I think he'll be fine. They just said he was out.
"He was going to play a bunch of reps, see what he could do so we could get our best five out there. Obviously that didn't happen, and that's a little disappointing."
When the NFL season opened on Thursday, WVU had 11 players on rosters. Those on active rosters are Corey McIntyre (Buffalo), Robert Sands (Cincinnati), Steve Slaton (Houston), Pat McAfee (Indianapolis), Owen Schmitt (Philadelphia), Ryan Mundy (Pittsburgh) and Chris Neild (Washington). Adam "Pac-Man" Jones (Cincinnati) and Brandon Hogan (Carolina) are on physically unable to perform lists. J.T. Thomas (Chicago) is on the injured reserve list. Mortty Ivy (Pittsburgh) is on the practice squad.
Two former Mountaineers were listed among those scheduled to be in the press box Saturday. Former WVU punter Steve Superick was down as an analyst for WMBS radio in Uniontown, Pa., and ex-defensive lineman John Thornton was an analyst for Root Sports and the Big East Network, which broadcast the game in West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and MASN in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The game will be shown on SNY in New York on Sept. 13 at 7 a.m.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.